The Splendid Pocho

The Latino Legends baseball team is neither Latino nor legendary. Discuss

We don't know what's most insulting about major league baseball's "Latino Legends" team—that eight of the 12 players selected played the majority of their careers during the 1990s while only two (Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente and San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal) played before 1965; that fans left such Hall of Famers as Chicago White Sox shortstop Luís Aparicio and first baseman Orlando Cepeda off the roster in favor of players like Alex Rodríguez and Vladimir Guerrero, who haven't even played a decade; or that Bud Selig's office didn't bother to include a manager, leaving Tony LaRussa, the late Al Lopez and Ozzie Guillen mierda out of luck.

What's ultimately most ridiculous about the team—unveiled Oct. 26 during game four of the World Series—is the racial matrix used by Commissioner Bud Selig's office to determine who could join the ballot.

The Latino Legends promotion occurred in part after Latino activists expressed their disappointment with the 1999 All-Century squad, which was free of Hispanics. As a panacea, major league baseball allowed fans this summer to vote on 60 players, divided by position, to create an all-Latino team. But the ballot, like anything involving Latinos and voting, was immediately fraught with errors.

Have an Americanized name like slugging 1950s Puerto Rican first baseman Vic Power (real name: Victor Pellot)? You're out!

Have only a Puerto Rican grandmother, like Reggie Martínez Jackson? Out!

Grow up in prosperity in the United States, like Alex Rodríguez and Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramírez, and unlike almost every player from a Latin American country? Safe!

Such selections call into question not only what is a Latino—a question that no one has answered conclusively for 500 years—but also the need for a Latino team, period. Icons like Clemente, Aparicio and Marichal had to battle racism and poverty to reach the big leagues; today's players, even if they're from a dirt-poor country like the Dominican Republic, nevertheless experience the same perks and nurturing as Americanbonus babies, making ethnic distinctions amongst baseball players almost irrelevant.

But the biggest Latino Legends mess involves a man long associated with gabacho America: Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams.

Most baseball scholars consider Williams baseball's greatest hitter—Teddy Ballgame, they call him. Few know Williams was half-Mexican through his mother, May Venzor. But Williams downplayed his Mexican heritage during his playing days, partly at the insistence of then-Red Sox general manager Eddie Collins, mainly because Williams played in a city so racist its baseball team was the last to include a black player on its roster. "If I had my mother's name, there is no doubt that I would have run into problems in those days," said Williams in his 1969 autobiography, My Turn at Bat.

Williams was more open about his mexicanidadin his golden years. Last year,Chicago Cubs shortstop Nomar Garciaparra told the Boston Globe Magazine that Williams once approached Mexican-American Garciaparra while the latter played with the Red Sox and said: "You know, I'm Mexican as well. My mother was Mexican."

But the fact that Williams was half-Mexican wasn't enough for baseball officials to include Williams on the final Latino Legends ballot. "It's not that he was ashamed of his heritage, but we felt we didn't find enough connection from Ted to that Latino heritage," MLB spokesperson Carmine Tiso told the New York Times in August. In that same article, another spokesperson fretted that the inclusion of Williams on the final ballot "would distort the ballot" and "cause havoc" because "[Williams'] ethnicity is not widely known."

Still, not everyone was disappointed with the exclusion of Williams from the ballot. "Ted Williams on a Latino team?" Guillen told a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter. "What the (expletive) is this? He never said hola in his life and he's on the (expletive) Latin team? Roberto Clemente doesn't make the All-Century Team (named in 1999), and Ted Williams could be on the Latin team? Come on." To his credit, Guillen also ridiculed Rodríguez's selection: "Alex Rodriguez is from New York. He has a USA passport! Alex Rodriguez couldn't even hold Luis Aparicio's underwear." God bless this walking stereotype.

Trying to figure out who exactly, can be considered Latino is a game much better played by sociologists and politicians, and yet major league baseball tried to appeal to America's largest, most fractious minority with a lineup sharing no commonalities other than the Spanish language (then again, Rodríguez no habla español). But MLB isn't that estúpido. Last year, it produced a "Latino Legends" sweatshirt for sale that included Williams. MLB doesn't mind causing "havoc" if there's crappy clothes to be hawked.

GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

 
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